Grand Central Terminal

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GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL, at Forty-second Street and Park Avenue in New York City, stands as a magnificent Beaux Arts monument to America's railroad age. At the heart of the terminal, the Grand ConcourseNew York City's secular cathedralserves as the crossroads for

midtown Manhattan. The terminal and two-story underground train yard, stretching from Forty-second to Fifty-sixth Streets between Madison and Lexington Avenues, replaced the first Grand Central constructed in 1871 by Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt and his New York Central and Harlem Railroads.

In 1901, William J. Wilgus, the New York Central's chief engineer, proposed a multifaceted plan of stunning complexity for a new facility. The railroad planned to build a new terminal building and a two-story underground train yard and to electrify operations in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Westchester Counties. To pay for the enormous cost, Wilgus proposed developing the air rights over the two-story underground train yard by creating luxury hotels, commercial office space, and apartments.

Excavation removed three million cubic feet of rock and dirt. Construction of the underground train yard consumed thirty thousand tons of steel, three times more than needed for the Eiffel Tower. Electrification proceeded in parallel with the construction. Whitney Warren and the partnership of Charles Reed and Alan Stem of Minneapolis designed the complex. Warren, trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, drew the plans for the monumental terminal building on Forty-second Street to serve as a magnificent gateway to New York.

Hailed at its opening in 1913 as the "greatest railway terminal in the world," the new Grand Central transformed the area around Forty-second Street into a harmonious blend of hotels, office buildings, and apartments, many connected directly by underground passageways to the terminal. Park Avenue, north of Grand Central, became New York City's grand boulevard, lined with luxury apartments and hotels built over the underground train yard.

Despite Grand Central's success, the New York Central and all of the nation's railroads soon entered a period of rapid decline. Grand Central suffered as the railroad struggled for decades to remain solvent. As decline continued after World War II, the railroad in 1954 announced plans to destroy the terminal and replace the Grand Concourse with a tall office building. New Yorkers rallied to save Grand Central and New York City passed its landmarks preservation law designating the building a landmark. A bitter court battle ensued until the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978 upheld Grand Central's landmark status.

Deterioration continued during the long court battle until the newly formed Metro-North Railroad assumed operation of the terminal. Restoration plans were formulated and financing secured to restore Grand Central. On 1 October 1998, after the restoration was completed, a rededication drew dignitaries and ordinary New Yorkers to celebrate the rebirth of one of the city's glories: Grand Central Terminal, the crossroads of New York City.

Kurt C. Schlichting

See also New York City ; Railroads .